Weapon Damage Ranges

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    I have a question which isn’t limited to Codex Martialis, but any DnD-based weapon stats, which you guys seem well-equipped to answer…

    How realistic is it for larger weapons to cause something like 1d12 damage range? I have no real-life experience with weapons or martial arts, but it always seemed odd to me that something like a battle axe can land a hit, but it’s just as likely to be a nick (rolled 1 for damage) as a normal amount of damage. To this layman, a nick from a battle axe wound seems nearly impossible. Am I off-base with this, and the damage ranges from DnD (which I don’t think you guys deviated much from) are about as realistic as anything else in the combat rules?

    Jean Chandler

    Well I don’t think you are completely wrong, but wounds from weapons like axes and swords do seem to lead to a range of effects. Quite often they can cause horrific damage, but almost equally as often relatively minor wounds seem to result. A lot depends on the wielder of the weapon, (a more experienced person is more likely to cause more serious wounds) and the quality of the weapon. But it seems like small wounds do routinely result.

    (Before clicking this link please be aware, IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE TO IMAGES OF WOUNDS, DON’T CLICK)

    For example https://i2-prod.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article5515583.ece/ALTERNATES/s615b/PAY-finger-chopped-off-with-axe.jpg

    this guy was wounded about 15 times in an attack with an axe. He lost a finger and suffered numerous serious lacerations, but nothing fatal. As you can see most of the wounds aren’t that deep.

    Now of course, this was probably an axe used for chopping wood, not a purpose made weapon. We assume ‘real’ weapons do more damage. I relied on published FBI statistics to get a sense of this.

    Another issue is that doing test cutting in the HEMA world, we noticed that both poor cutting technique and sometimes just a little bit of clothing can drastically reduce the effectiveness of a cut. I have a fairly formidable 4′ (sharp) longsword replica. If you cut right, it will slice right through a wet tatami mat with a wooden dowell inside. We have also tested it on a pork shoulder prior to a barbque. It can cut right through it. But it can also barely make a dent in a soft plastic water bottle if you don’t cut properly.

    In Codex, we try to handle the variability a couple of ways:

    HIT POINT CEILING – In the Codex rules, we suggest that you cap hit points at 3 x CON score. So for more people, it means no more than 30-40 hit points.

    WEAPON REACH or SPEED BONUS – A high reach or speed bonus means you are not only more likely to hit, you are also more likely to land an “Artful Strike” (see below)

    ARTFUL STRIKE – In the Codex Rules, if your MODIFIED die roll is 20 or better, it’s considered an “Artful Strike” meaning you do an extra die of damage, by attack type. In Codex Rules for a Chopping attack that is a D10, for a Slice it’s D12. So in the case of a big axe, it adds up to 2-22 base damage, per strike. That will kill most opponents in 2-4 hits. If you have a high To Hit bonus, which is a combination of your weapon stats, your personal ‘Prowess’ (a reflection of your skill) and your physical attribute bonus (Str or Dex), you are more likely to get an Artful Strike. If you use multiple dice attacks, meaning you are putting more effort into trying to kill your opponent, you are also much more likely to land an Artful Strike. So this means that the damage will tend to skew upward.

    CRITICAL HIT – In the Codex Rules we also have a Dynamic Criticals rule. That means if you roll a ‘natural’ (unmodified) 20 on a D20, you do extra damage equal to the number of dice you put in. So if you rolled a four dice chopping attack with your big axe and rolled a 20 on one of them, you would do your base damage of D12, plus 4 x D10, so between 5 – 52 hit points of damage. That is enough to kill almost anyone with one cut, not counting the possible effects of armor.

    Even with a multi-dice Critical Hit there is still always a chance you’ll do relatively low damage, but another effect of rolling multiple dice is that it creates a statistical bell curve, so that your numbers are more often going to be in the middle. A typical Artful Strike with a big Axe will land somewhere around 8-12 damage, a two die Critical Hit will be in the 15-20 hp range, a four die Critical Hit will be in the 20-30 hp damage range.

    finally we also have a “Severe and Grave Wounds” system you can use to make it all even more bloody:

    SEVERE and GRAVE WOUNDS – Any time you cause at least 20 HP damage, you can roll on the Severe Wounds table, and any time you cause at least 30 HP damage you can roll on the Grave Wounds table. Severe wounds mean a serious degradation in abilities, represented by a loss of 1 or 2 MP, and possible permanent maiming or disfiguring injuries. Grave Wounds mean basically death or maiming.

    Despite having all this, I will say that the 3 x CON HP ceiling is probably a little bit high, and it’s set that high so that PCs and major NPCs won’t die from a single wound. If you lose say 20 HP as a PC, you may be in big trouble but you perhaps still have time to surrender or scramble away to safety.

    If you want the game more bloody though, the easiest thing is to just reduce the Hit Point Celing to 2 x CON instead, or even 1 x CON. If you only have 10-20 hit points, a D12 damage suddenly becomes a lot scarier.

    The real problem with the damage numbers in DnD is really just that the players and tougher monsters just had too many hit points at higher levels.

    If you are wondering how this actually works out in play, I recommend reading through a couple of the sample combats we recently posted. You’ll see that even experienced warriors perish pretty quickly after 2-3 blows. That is pretty much how it works with the default rules, and for more or less ‘bloody’ combat I think the easiest thing is just adjust the hit points as I just laid out.

    Hope that helps and let me know if you have any other questions! And welcome to the board!

    (sorry I didn’t answer sooner I was AFK for a few days)


    I appreciate the comprehensive answer. I should have mentioned that I am indeed going with a low-hit-point system, so you didn’t get the impression that I was worried about rolling a 1 for damage when my character has 80 HP. I’m using a range of hit points between probably 15 and 25 for humanoids, and the big monsters are scaled back too. But you covered all the bases in your answer, so no matter.

    I also appreciate the summary of the Artful Strike. I’ve already made a summary of the onset and melee rules for my own use, and compared your post to what I already have (a reworded explanation from what is in the rulebook never hurts), and it looks like I had it wrong before – I thought you needed to use at least two martial dice in your attack to qualify for an artful strike, based on “multi-dice attack” in this line in the rules: “Any time you make a multi-dice attack and get a hit, and the result of the modified roll is over 20, you can add one extra damage dice based on your attack type”

    The Codex rules are one of my favorite RPG supplements. If I was running a medieval-type setting, I’d probably end up using everything the rules have to offer. As it is, though, I’m using whatever I can for my fantasy neolithic/bronze-age setting.

    Jean Chandler

    Actually I think you are right, Artful Strike is for multi-dice attacks, at least in the rules as written. GM has say over how this is implemented though, so if you want to allow it in single-die attacks you can (and this will make it bloodier).

    Interested to hear more about your Neolithic / Bronze Age setting. I was actually thinking about doing a “Quest for Fire” based module though I’ll probably have to wait a while to get around to it.


    I’m happy to ramble about my setting, but I’ll try to be concise before your eyes glaze over…

    I’m playing solo (if this is new idea to you, which it was to me until recently, there is a ton of work out there for solo TTRPGs), so I don’t have to worry about anyone else needing to buy into my ideas. I get to do the hand-waving where I want, and put the verisimilitude where I want.

    My world-building started out with two main ideas: 1) I’ve always been fascinated with the idea in mythology of the first generations of humans being incredibly long-lived, and 2) Learning how much of what I’ve been assuming to be social advancement is actually just window-dressing, and trying to strip as much of it away as possible and still be able to run adventures in a low-tech or “primitive” world that can be as complex as adventures in a standard D&D-ish setting. The book “The Dawn Of everything” has been priceless in this regard.

    I’ll skip the creation story, which is arbitrary and the details of which are irrelevant. Suffice it to say there was an act of creation: the world somehow or other poofed into existence, and was almost immediately populated with populations of what we would consider natural lifeforms. There is a kind of spirit responsible for this, but she is merely recognized as the progenitor, not worshipped, and she is not known to have taken any action since creation.

    I find most invented theologies boring, and I’m sure mine is no different, but for background purposes, I need to quickly run down the four types of spirits. The reason I find defining the spirits necessary is to drive home the point that although there are spirits, none of them are stand-ins for the concept of gods. The four spirit types: 1) non-human animal species all have one representative spirit called totem spirits 2) non-animal life, and non-living objects have kami-like spirits 3) The spirits of humans are more individual than totem spirits, which don’t come into play much for the living, but they do live on after death, giving rise to ancestor worship 4) Independent entities of the spirit world, not tied to humans, animals, or non-animals. When they manifest in the material realm, it is often as trickster spirits.

    None of the spirit types have exceptionally high power levels, and humans can circumstantially find themselves on an equal footing with some of them, so there’s nobody worth calling a god here.

    The world is only about 300 years old at the time of the campaign. The first generation of humans are roughly analogous to the Greek titans – seemingly aloof and unknowable, and great sources of knowledge, should they choose to share. They differ from the titans in that they mostly do choose to share, and are generally good stewards of their descendants. It is not known if they are immortal because none have yet died from old age, but they can be killed (although they put up a better-than-average fight). Their appearance is of early middle age. The have a preternatural knack for engineering, which is why humanity already benefits from the invention of some basics like the spear, bow and arrow, fire, torches, rope, canoes, leather, and shelter construction.

    The second generation (the children of the titan-like generation, just to remind you that there is no more “creation” going on) are meant to be analogous to the Greek gods – passionate and hypocritical, but also able to exemplify lofty ideals. Some of this generation have died of old age (but they were nearly 200 years old at the time), and those with a less-charitable view of this generation define them by their jealousy of their parents, who are possibly immortal. Since the first death of from old age, there’s been a bit of a panic about dying through-out humanity, which was alleviated somewhat when communication with ancestor spirits was found to be possible.

    The third generation are analogous to the Greek heroes: the tension between the 1st gen and 2nd gen humans is above their paygrade – this world is the hand they were dealt, and they don’t resent it. They never had any hope of immortality, and they are here to leave their mark for future generations to marvel at. If they don’t die from misadventure, they live from between 130-150 years.

    Subsequent human generations have a normal lifespan. The human population at this point is about 5000 people (starting with 50 humans in the first gen, and a population growth rate of 1.5%), leading a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The yearly route of neighboring tribes and chiefdoms is more or less known to any particular tribe or chiefdom, and there are usually feasts, sporting events, and other regular meetings of tribes and chiefdoms. The grand-daddy of them all, though, is the Sodality. This is held in the same spot every 8 years, and consists of all surviving 1st-gen humans, plus hand-picked secondary attendees. For those 1st-gen humans furthest from the centrally-located meeting spot, this takes them away from their chiefdom for about six months. They hand pick an honor-guard to accompany them, and being picked for this is one of the highest honors you could hope for. There is some small ceremony and celebration while the Sodality is in session, but it’s mostly business. The discussions are in private, and the attendees usually return to their chiefdoms without providing any detail of what was discussed, only with what the results of the decisions will mean for their people.

    There are no domesticated animals. The totem spirits wouldn’t allow it. The totem spirits don’t object to respectful hunting, but attempted domestication is a degradation they will rise up against.

    Rules for social interaction are going to play a big part, but that is the least fleshed-out part of my game. For combat opponents, it will be an equal mix of humans, wild beasts, and, a bit more rarely, fantastical beats. Everybody’s hit points will be scaled back just to represent “meat”, and not include any abstraction about rolling with the punches or whatever.

    Technologically, I don’t think these guys really need much more than what I mentioned several paragraphs back. With my titan-like 1st gen humans, I can hand-wave any kind of technology being available, even metallurgy, but I don’t see much of a need for more. The only thing I miss in this setup is the iconic fantasy RPG weapon of the sword. But I’ve been learning that RPG rules have rarely given the spear the respect it deserves, so I’m getting more comfortable with the idea of a swordless world, and playing a spear-fighter.

    But then in a spear-only world, I’m missing out on the brilliant reach vs speed weapon ratings in Codex Martialis, and stuff like having a dagger-wielder trying his damnedest to get from onset to melee range. Since wild beasts are going to be a major source of threats, I will still get some of that reach-vs-speed in combat, but human-vs-human is always more fun.

    If you suffered through this whole thing, thanks for reading.

    Jean Chandler

    First, certainly sounds like an interesting world build, with several elements that a lot of people would find compelling. Give it a good name, and find or create some art, and I would think you could find an audience for this should you want to expand beyond solo play.

    As for the spear only world, there are a lot of neolithic weapons which fill the niche of the sword – war hammers, hand axes, ‘proto swords’ edged with obsidian or shark’s teeth, daggers, throwing sticks, shortened spears, and various other weapons.

    We cover a lot of these in our weapon book and some of them are in the core rules.

    For a deeper dive into this stuff, I’d recommend Sir Richard Burton’s “Book of the Sword”. It’s a little bit fantastical but he gets into the pre-historical origins of swords, ‘proto-swords’ and many other related weapons.

    One interesting theory he had, which I learned subsequently may have some legs, was that swords seem to have “evolved” from a range of ‘throwing sticks’ and ‘throwing woods’, some of which end up with a use and a shape similar to hunting boomerangs. There were two important types in Europe called ‘Cataea’ and ‘Teutona’. They were made smooth and streamlined to fly better, but this had the knock-on effect of making them cut through the air much better, which was exploited to make a new class of striking weapons and so on.

    These go back to the neolithic in Europe, I think I remember they found one in a cave in Poland which was 30,000 years old.

    Apparently there was a version of the Cataea known to the Greeks



    Jean Chandler

    Thank you so much.

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